EAST GRINSTEAD MUSEUM
East Grinstead Museum has a mission to preserve and develop the important collection of which it is the custodian.
The museum’s roots lie in the collection that was amassed in the tower of St Swithuns Church, by the vicar, the Rev Golding Golding-Bird in 1926. A set of grappling irons, used to pull thatch from burning buildings, were stored in the tower, for accessibility at all times. They sparked his interest and he began collecting other items to start a small museum.
This museum closed in 1955 with the Urban District Council storing most of the collection at East Court. In 1960 some items were displayed in two cabinets there. By the 1970s, the East Grinstead Society wanted a local history museum and were offered three small rooms at East Court, in which to start it. The East Grinstead Town Museum opened in July 1976. Items of local interest were soon donated by the public. The largest number of artefacts were from the defunct pottery, rescued from the site by a local resident, Charles Goolden.
The trustees applied for official status under the National Museums and Galleries Commission scheme. They were successful, becoming accredited in 1995. Because of its out of town location, limited space and without control of the temperature and humidity needed to maintain the collection to the highest standards, it was decided to find more suitable premises. In 1997, work began on the quest to find them and to secure the funding for such a large project.
Finding a new home
The only suitable site available near the historic High Street, was the former building used as auction rooms by the Cantelupe Road market. The Town Council purchased the site and sold it to the museum for £50. A Heritage Lottery Grant was forthcoming at the second attempt and significant fundraising by the museum volunteers and the community, allowed the trustees to open their new, purpose-built, museum on 1st September 2006. Its contemporary architecture, low maintenance and environmentally friendly features, have proved a talking point for visitors and residents alike. In 2009 the architects won an award from Mid Sussex District Council for its design.
Since then the museum has seen many changes. The trustees continue to accept donations of items relevant to East Grinstead and the surrounding villages. They have also been fortunate in receiving two large collections. The first was the negatives from the well-respected local photographer, Malcolm Powell. The other was the contents of the small museum, set up in the Queen Victoria Hospital, started by Bob Marchant. This is notably centred on items relating to Sir Archibald McIndoe and the Guinea Pig Club.
The latter collection has now been fully accessioned and catalogued and their story told in the “Rebuilding Bodies and Souls” gallery in the museum. Items from the QVH collection form the core of the display, but, inevitably, as in all museums, lack of space means the items on display are just the tip of the iceberg. We are proud to say that we are now the official museum of the Guinea Pig Club.
Looking to the Future
Museums have a duty to preserve the past, but they must also look to the future. The trustees are currently investigating the possibility of up-dating the Town Gallery, which remains largely the same as it was when the new building opened in 2006. Watch this space!
Cllr Stephen Ody
East Grinstead has a long history, from the Medieval period to the present day. Set out in the early Twelfth Century by a French noble…